We Love Aluminum Frames, and You Should Too

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eTap-equipped MKI road at NAHBS. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

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Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

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Frame holding jig in the finishing booth. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

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A few of Andrew's origin frames. The steel one in the middle was the one he build while attending UBI in 2009. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

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Andrew prefers to operate the foot switch bare-footed for better feel and control. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

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Mise en place. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

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Pre-weld markings. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

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Spent welding rods. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

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Head tube on the welding jig. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

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A bunch of triangles made while practicing welds.. and finishes. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

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A JET horizontal mitering bandsaw plus the must-have, multi-use gallon bucket. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

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Rear triangle alignment jig. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

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Custom frame oven designed by none other than Andrew himself. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

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Frames. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

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Welding time. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

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Andrew seen through the yellow curtain. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

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Andrew, with a MkI road, and Manny. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

A custom aluminum frame is somewhat of a unicorn these days. Stroll down the aisles at NAHBS and it’s obvious that the dominant materials for frames are titanium, carbon, and steel. And those are all wonderful materials in their own right, but I have a soft spot for aluminum.

As a kid I drooled over a Klein Quantum Pro with that badass orange paint job, or the flaming red Cannondale CAAD Cipollini rode. There’s a certain beauty to fat tubed, smooth welding frame that just screams come at me bro.

Well, Klein’s gone now (RIP), but my hope of finding a good aluminum bike is not.

The Low Down

Sure, you could go with a big name factory option like Cannondale’s CAAD 12 and Specialized’s Allez, but if you want custom aluminum hand-crafted by an expert, Andrew Low of LOW Bicycles is your guy.

Growing up with interests in model airplanes, guitars and cars, Andrew started building roll cages for off-road vehicles while pursuing his degree in fine arts in Colorado. After moving back to his native San Francisco in 2005, he got really into bikes, and eventually got the idea to make his own frame.

Years of researching tools, saving money, and welding practice finally yielded two frames by the summer of 2010. From there, Andrew “started to take those around town where bike messengers were hanging out.” The LOW frames were an instant hit, and that was the origin of LOW Bicycles.

Today, besides offering four different track models, LOW is dipping into the resurgent aluminum road and cross market with their new MkI road and cross frames—all made in their 500 square foot shop so tidy you would think you just walked into a boutique car shop. Here’s what he has to say for himself.

The Interview

Andrew Low. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
Andrew Low. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

Why aluminum? I like the look of oversized tubing as opposed to steel frames but I also wanted to make racing bikes and aluminum is a great material for that, dollar per dollar it’s the most effective material for racing. It’s really versatile in that you can make a really stiff bike and you can make really comfortable bike contrary to popular belief.

It’s just how you shape the tubes.

Aluminum is softer than steel and it’s not as rigid and brittle as epoxy which you find in carbon fiber.

How many frames do you make now? 12 frames every four weeks, and we stop 4 weeks out of the year. So that’s about 120 bikes a year.

Describe your bikes in five words: Beautiful, aggressive, well-designed, well-made, fast.

Why #thismachinekillscarbon? Because if you get on our bikes you won’t feel any disadvantage because you’re on an aluminum bike. I came up with that hashtag myself. The full quote is “this machine kills carbon and your preconceived notion of superiority.”

That’s what we’re setting out to do with our road bike. It started happening now in the industry where big brands are investing into high-end aluminum bikes. Specialized with their Allez which is a beautiful bike in my opinion. Some people are starting to realize that barring from buying the highest end carbon frame you can get just as good if not better performance out of aluminum. One of my bikes will ride much better than a similar-priced carbon bike. You’ll feel the difference.

Uphill or downhill: Downhill.

Favorite riding place: Riding in Marin is awesome, riding through traffic is fun. I used to love riding the city loop

Shaped aluminum tubes ready to be cajoled into a frame. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
Shaped aluminum tubes ready to be cajoled into a frame. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

One thing people don’t know about you: I am working on getting my pilot license.

Favorite music: Bands that I grown up loving: the Ramones. Jonathan Richmond, jimmy Hendrix, Lou reed, a lot of stuff from late 70s, early 80s. I play the guitar.

What are you most proud of? That I’ve able to keep this going for five years. Most businesses fail within the first year. I am proud that it took off to begin with. We have a shit ton of struggle keeping the business going. But I am just really proud that I did something people like. For me that’s awesome. It’s validating.

Andrew hard at work. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
Andrew hard at work. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

How long does it take to produce one frame: About 30 hours per bike.

Morning or night person: Both. I don’t sleep that much. I go to bed late and wake up early.

Anything else you’d like to add: Buy my bikes!


Carla McCord at Pivot Cycles Takes Your Fun Budget Seriously

Carla McCord of Pivot Cycles. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

Carla McCord is a veteran of the cycling industry. Now the marketing manager at Pivot Cycle, she’s been a bike shop salesperson, a mechanic, and a graphic designer. She was even there when the first woman-specific Terry saddle was introduced (more on that in a bit.)

Named one of the 50 Most Influential Women in the Industry by Bicycle Retailer and Industry News in 2014, Carla has been helping various companies in marketing and communicating products to customers. Call it the bridge between you and [insert your favorite bike company here]. Sounds easy right? Well, it’s easier said than done really, as you’ll read in the following interview.

On top of it all, Carla is one of the nicest and hardest working people I’ve had a chance to meet since I’ve started shooting/writing cycling stuff. Oh, and I hear she’s blazing fast on the bike, too.

So what do you really do for work?

Well, the official title is the marketing manager for Pivot Cycles. The unofficial title would be more interesting. You know, it’s a funny combo, marketing is a lot of things to a lot of people and I think there’s an impression out there that you’ll spend a lot of time bro-ing down … I joke about it all the time that I am at these events just to give free stuff and hangout.

And the reality is that is actually a very tiny part of it. The biggest part is you’re trying to think about what is it you do and how that is going to be interesting to people. You’ll spend a lot of time strategizing, you’ll spend a lot of time planning one year, two years down the road. I am in a really privileged place in a sense that my job is to essentially make people happy.

It’s a huge responsibility. We think about this, the stuff we make at Pivot, these bikes, when someone decides to buy one of our bikes and that’s going to be the thing they ride. For most people that is a significant thing—that’s going to be their fun budget for a while. So it’s a huge responsibility to make sure we communicate in a way they get the real one, it fits them perfectly, it’s set up perfectly so that six months from now, heck, we’re responsible for their fun. They believe our stuff is going to help them to go out and to enjoy the trails, the mountains, the desert and we‘ve got to make sure we hold up to our end of the bargain. So we work really hard to do that.

Were you always in marketing?

Oh gosh that’s the funny one. I have a painting degree. I have a BFA from the University of Washington and I was really serious about it for a while. And then I realized I can pay my bills if I’m employed. At the same time I had worked my way through college at bike shops as a mechanic and salesperson.

The wrenching was an accident. And honestly I wasn’t that great of a wrench. Though if you’ve got a 20 year-old, one-inch-threaded-everything beater old road bike and a campy tool set, I can fix the hell out of that bike. Since then, there are other mechanics that are better than I am.

But I was actually really good at helping people find things and helping people solve their problems. I started working at bike shops pretty much exactly the same time the first women’s saddle was introduced. It was about ’91-’92.

Georgena Terry should be in the cycling hall of fame for that saddle. It really was that one product. For years it was like you had to know that in order to make your saddle comfortable as a woman means you go to the bike shop, borrow the dremel tool and dremel out the plastic in the inside of the nose of the saddle. For beginner cyclists, that was completely inaccessible. They didn’t even know what to ask.

Being a woman in a bike shop in the ’90s was really, really rare. I happened to work at a woman-owned bike shop in Seattle so it was even more rare. I learned a lot of cool stuff about how to talk to different demographics of people not as demographics, and that’s one of the things that was really important.

How many golf balls can you fit in a school bus?

I’ll just guess: 567,000

Uphill or downhill?

Downhill.

First thing you’d do as a captain of a pirate ship?

I’d probably make sure everybody has really frilly blouses because I want a really picture-esque pirate ship that’s aesthetically pleasing. I would design the pirate ship experience to make it visually impressive.

A friend’s coming over, what would you cook them for dinner?

That’s pretty easy. That’s all about getting some really good Mexican food going. That is just my home food. Awesome guacs, good skirt steak, and some homemade tortilla if I am really adventurous but honestly my tortillas are really bad. More guac because I am an avocado addict. I used to live in LA and that is definitely something I miss about LA, just the nonstop availability of a Mexican butcher shop.

Describe your idea of a perfect holiday.

I am kind of a sit in one place kind of person so when I go on vacation what I like to do is to find a spot and basically live there as long as I can. Honestly my vacation I usually try to turn into something I can also get a little work in so I can stay for a month. The cool thing about that is you get to know the local restaurants, bakeries, the food, the people and you’ll start to see the stuff you don’t see otherwise. Always got to have a bike on hand cause you’ll see so many more things on bike than by car. I walk everywhere, always with a loved one, so I’d definitely go with my husband Cam … and our baby on the way … it’ll be a family vacation.

Carla McCord of Pivot Cycles. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

If you were a stalker would you be good at it?

Yeah I’d be awesome at it actually. I am really good at getting information. It’s part of being a good marketing manager. You have to be able to do your research, to do your Google things. You’ve got to be able to come up with ideas and figure things from what you find, so I think I’ll be pretty kickass at it.

Most embarrassing story?

I don’t know. I got myself tangled up with some packing tape this morning.

Chosen superpower?

I’d like to be a Google billionaire so I can give all my money away to all the schools. I think it’s something that’s really important that we don’t do enough of.

Choose a car, any car, to represent yourself.

Exactly the car I drive. It’s a Subaru Outback with all kinds of things attached to it. It’s got a rooftop box, a Thule rack, and special shocks so I can run a 4 banger Thule rack and not bottom out my rear suspension.

It’s filled with Border Collie hair at all times. You can’t get into my car without getting coated in dog hair because I always have a dog. There’s probably one snow shoe and some camping gear.

If you were an animal in the wild, what would you be?

Ravens, because they’re super smart. They remember everything and they know you. If you’ve got local ravens they see you. They’re gorgeous that there are lot of beautiful colors in their feathers. Ravens just seem like they kind of have it together. They’re always out there doing interesting raven stuff that they seem they’re smart enough that they have plans.

Any advice for those looking into breaking into this sport industry?

You can’t just think it’s a bro thing. And by bro I mean all these folks want to come in thinking it’s super easy, fun time thing that they get to be a cool guy.

I spend a lot of time in front of Excel, work really hard, think a lot about what I am doing and I also have a lot of folks who work really hard around me. It’s awesome and I try to be respectful of that.

At the same time, it’s a small industry and the most important thing is to have integrity around what you do because if you don’t, man, first of all, what are you doing for yourself, and in the end, that’ll come back to you six months or six years down the road. Somebody’s going to remember and you’ll see the same people over and over. It’s important that you treat them all very well.


Nice Guys Can Finish First (Or At Least With Silver)

"Climbing," said Adrien Costa. "It' like heaven for me. I don't mind time-trialing, but it's not the same."
“Climbing,” said Adrien Costa. “It’ like heaven for me. I don’t mind time-trialing, but it’s not the same.” Photo: Jim Merithew/Element.ly

Adrien Costa has been all over the cycling media after winning silver in the junior Worlds time trial championships in Richmond, 17 seconds off the lead.

The 18-year-old hopes his junior success will eventually lead to a contract in the pro peleton, but for now he is just trying to keep it all in perspective and accomplish one goal at a time.

“He might be humble, but he doesn’t back down from any challenge,” said Jonathan Vaughters, manager of the Cannondale-Garmin cycling team. “Doing a World Tour training camp? No problem. Quite a bit stronger than many of the pros and did all of the training miles.”

Costa has been living in Bend, Oregon after growing up in Los Altos, California.

“It is small town life, relaxed and a ton of things to do outside,” said Costa. “Hiking and they have the rivers and the lakes there. It is perfect offseason territory. I love it.”

So what has he been up to since being on the podium?

“Since Worlds, it’s been a month now, and I haven’t really ridden that much,” said Costa. “I started with two weeks completely off. And now just messing around a couple times a week.. Yeah, for any level of cyclist it is important to have the rest, mentally especially.”

He got some of his wisdom about seeking balance from his coach, some from his mom and picked up even more during the Cannondale-Garmin training camp he got invited to earlier this year in Mallorca.

“It was amazing,” said Costa. “I learned so much and not just from cycling. Obviously you do learn just talking to the guys about how everyone finds their balance between cycling and regular life. They are some of the best in the world, but they still live interesting lives outside of cycling. You have to find the balance. It was really interesting and it gave me a good perspective on what I need to do and some thing I can relax upon a little more. To still be young for a little bit.”

Costa started riding on the track in San Jose at the ripe old age of 12.

“The track really is a great way to start,” he said. “Because you learn so much: pedal stroke, tactics, bike handling, it is so good.”

Costa hopes to eventually take his skills to the pro peleton and have what it takes to be a contender on the GC.

“In the junior races and amateur races I tend to get better as the race progresses,” he said. “And I’m good at time-trialing and climbing. And those are the three key ingredients. I absolutely love climbing. It’s heaven for me. I don’t mind time trialling, but it’s not the same.”

“He’s willing to do the hard work, live the solitary lifestyle, and make the real sacrifices,” said Vaughters. “Of course he’s talented. He can climb, he can time trial, and he can handle a big workload. But his desire to succeed and willingness to do what it takes to succeed is what sets him apart.”

Two minutes after our interview, Costa is headed to Europe to train in Nice and will be riding for theAxeon development team next season. He will be watched over by none other than Axel Merckx.

“Eventually you have to take a step and adapt,” said Costa. “I don’t think we are close to being able to produce riders independently without going through Europe. It’s because the country is so big and even though we might have more cyclists total, they are so spread out.”

Costa is keeping it all in perspective and attempting to remember why he loved riding his bike to begin with.

“I’ve been trying to rekindle the same passion I had when I was younger,” said Costa. “After school rides used to be my favorite. I would go out after school and just ride my bike. Then the next day you spend the whole day in school day dreaming about riding after school.”

“I’m still trying to find the perfect balance.” he said.

The Interview

Family: Oldest of three siblings

Yellow or Pink: Oh I think yellow, but I think the Giro is a race I find way more inspiring. Just because of the courses and the difficulty of it and the struggles with the weather. They race with way more passion at the Giro. The Tour just seems super calculated. But, it is the biggest race and I don’t think anyone would mind yellow.

How to win a TT: My best TTs are when you just really get into that rhythm where you are hurting really bad, but you can still hold that rhythm. It’s all about finding that sweet spot. It is definitely a huge, huge mental game.

Is your mom supportive: 100 percent.

What is your spirit animal: I have no idea. I’ll have to come up with one.

“He’s a thoroughbred,” said Jonathan Vaughters. “That’s his spirit animal.”

Favorite Meal: I would say burritos. Any burrito.

Three words friends would use to describe you: Focused. Adventurous. And hopefully smart.

Languages spoken: I speak French, Spanish and I’m learning Italian.

Favorite movie: I just watched The Godfather and I enjoyed that. A little bit of action and a little bit of history. I don’t watch a ton of movies.

Favorite music: I play guitar, so I’m into the ’70s rock stuff. I’m really into Carlos Santana. I’ve been doing a couple of his things note-by-note and I’m getting there.

KOMs: I want to come back and get the Old La Honda KOM one day. You tell the guy who has it I’m coming to get it.

One thing people don’t know about you: Let’s just say cyclist are aggressive drivers. I got pulled over doing triple digits. (In his van, no less)


Dishing the Dirt With Mountain Bike Icon Hans Rey

Hans Rey
Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

Hans ‘No Way’ Rey is a legend. Mountain bike hall of famer, multiple world and national trials champion, freeride pioneer, the guy in that “Monkey See Monkey Do” video — on VHS, of course.

Those were the days where the GT LTS/RTS carbon were the hottest full suspension bikes on the block, The days of 56K modems, AOL 1,000 hour CDs in a tin can, Magura hydraulic rim brakes, print magazines …

Fast forward to 2015. The evergreen Hans is as strong as ever and still goes on epic bike trips across the globe riding in partnership with GT Bicycle. In fact, Hans is the longest GT-sponsored athlete for a whopping 28 years and running ever since the early days of mountain biking.

With that in mind, we sat down with Hans for a quick fireside (okay, a hotel lobby) chat in Park City, Utah.

So how did you get into mountain biking?

I started as a trials rider in Europe when it was just really trendy, kid’s sport really. I was about to retire from that and go to a university when an American trials rider came to Europe. Trials was a European sport then but he started telling us about this new sport in America called mountain biking and how there are always these stage races where a rider has to do downhill, cross country, and trials on the same bike. He said I should come over and show Americans what real trials are and I figured that’d be a great ending to my career.

I was 19-20 years old so I thought why don’t I take a semester off from the university and check it out.

I went over and the guy’s name is Kevin Norton and he had a real big interest in promoting trials and making it bigger. He introduced me not only to the mountain bike world but also into the whole BMX world because at that point trials was kind of living in both worlds. It went so well that I got a contract with GT and then I got hooked up at Swatch. They wanted me to tour America with skateboarder Rodney Mullen together to do shows and stuff so I thought maybe if I stay little bit longer I can take another semester off and it’ll be a great way to learn the language and see the country a bit. One year became two, three and next year will be number 30.

Hans Rey
Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

How has mountain biking changed over the years, from your point of view?

If you look at the bikes from back then, you wonder how could you ride down these trails. Some of the trails you ride today are more or less the same trails you rode back then and it makes you sometimes wonder how you pulled it off.

I wasn’t one of the first guys but I was definitely there when the boom started. My roots go deep into all different sub-cultures of sport because I would eventually start racing some downhill, slalom … I even got third place at the Slalom World Championship one year.

I then started doing adventures on a mountain bike that really brought me the respect from the people that everyone who has a mountain bike knew how hard it was to bunny hop up and down a curb and this guy rides over cars and whatever.

The last 15-20 years were really based on changes and technology of the bike. I think the next 10-15 years will be about how we ride the bikes, purposed-built trails for example and all that stuff.

Was it more fun?

Usually when you look back at things you always be like the good old days were always better. You can look at that side too, but I don’t think the fun has stopped.

I’ve always said my philosophy is “I am going to do this as long as I have fun.” That hasn’t really stopped and that’s probably why I am still doing it. I embrace all the new trends, technologies and changes and have fun with it.

I still try to spread my roots. My roots are really deep now after being there for so long and I have a really solid foundation. And I still am interested in all the subcultures. My weekly riding habit involves several forms of riding. I do a lot of all-mountain stuff in connection with my adventure trips, regular mountain bike ride, but I ride trials once a week still. Sometimes I do shuttle runs, downhill runs and I even train on the road bike every once in a while to get some miles in. I even enjoy riding e-bikes sometimes.

Up hill or downhill?

Downhill.

Describe your idea of a perfect holiday.

For me it might be not to touch my bike. But no, I can only do that for a couple of days. My wife always says I get antsy if I am dis-attached from my bike for too long. But sometimes it’s nice to just go somewhere to relax, do nothing, to enjoy nature, and some spend time with my wife.

Any Particular place?

I like to go to new places. I like to go to special remote places, like I went to this really cool island with my wife a few years ago to Fiji. It was just a really nice vacation. Really special place with one-on-one time.

I get to do a lot of the cool biking stuff as my job. Luckily I have a dream job and I appreciate that. My office is some of the coolest biking trails and locations around the world so I don’t necessarily have to do that on my holiday.

If you had to choose a car that represents your personality, what would it be?

I am a fan of Audi, or a Land Rover kind of guy.

How much would you charge to wash all the windows in your town?

Probably a 7-figure amount.

How many golf balls can you fit in a schoolbus?

50,000?

Tell us your most embarrassing riding story.

In my downhill racing days which I was never really the guy to necessarily take home the world championships, I did start the world championship three times. I didn’t take it so serious, I was more just doing it without much preparation in those days. You have a water bottle with you and I was even drinking during my runs and stuff. But in one particular one at the Worlds in Italy in ’91, in the qualifying run I started out the gate and forgot to put my goggles on. It was really foggy and muddy … and I had to stop to put my goggles on and then continue riding. Hence the fact that I didn’t qualify in that one.

What are your guilty pleasures?

I like my cocktails and drinks.

Any advice for riders out there?

Well, if you want to make a living and be a professional, you’ve got to be professional. You have to treat it like a job. At the same time you don’t want to treat it too serious. You’ve got to have fun with it. At the end of the day, you have to make it happen for yourself.

We are a relatively small sport. It’s not like there are talent scouts out there looking for you. A lot of the guys who start becoming sponsored at one level or another often don’t understand the big picture — that it’s a business and these sponsors don’t just do it because they like you. There needs to be something in return. That “thing” in return can be in many different ways: It can be with a good
result, it can be with media exposure, it can be being a spokesperson or a communicator for the brand.

It could be in many forms, but you have to deliver that and you have to document it and show it to them. The bottom line is, have fun with it. As long you have fun, you’ve already won a lot.

If you could pick a super power, what would it be?

Time travel.


Julian Carr Can Defy Death and Still Be a Nice Guy

Julian Carr. Photo: Jakob Schiller/Element.ly
Julian Carr. Photo: Jakob Schiller/Element.ly

Julian Carr is fearless. He’s famous for a lot of things, but he’s probably best well-known for skiing off gigantic, terrifying, multi-hundred foot cliffs. As part an elite crew of extreme athletes, he’s doing things that seem to go beyond the limits of the human body.

You’d think someone this gutsy would have to be a dick to do what he does, but he’s also a supremely nice guy—someone you’d want to hang out with on the ski slopes or down at the ski lodge bar. He’s also a clever and thoughtful designer and founded the Discrete clothing line, which has grown steadily since it began. We recently caught up with Julian and asked him some questions about what makes him tick.

What are you most proud about: Being happy and healthy.

Where do you see yourself in five years time: Being healthy and happy.

Which is your favorite book/movie: A Brief History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson and my favorite movie is HEAT.

Which is the one job in the world that you would love to do: Mow the lawn and vacuum.

What is your spirit animal: Mountain lion

If you won a lottery, how would you spend your millions: Travel and spend it on people and communities, making peoples lives better. And a Ferrari.

Are you a morning person or a night person: Both.

What is your favorite cocktail: Twiskey.

Would you like to climb a mountain or trek across a desert: Both.

If people were thrown into jail for bad habits, what would you be thrown in jail for: Eating Chips. I love chips.

What would be your chosen superpower: Fly.

What is your favorite food: Water.

What is your idea of the perfect vacation: Skiing pow and laughing with friends.